Rethinking Primary Charisma: Shamanisms, Jazz Improvisation, and Ava-Guarani Leadership in Eastern Paraguay

Presented by Eric Michael Kelley, Visiting Instructor of Anthropology

The shaman is the prototypical exemplar of Weber’s category of primary charisma, the “ideal type” that he characterized as the “original sacred experience.”  The extensive ethnographic literature on shamanisms, however, suggests that there has never been an empirical example corresponding to Weber’s conceptualization of the primary charismatic.  Ideal types are, admittedly, somewhat immune to such critiques.  Nevertheless, I argue that by building upon previous approaches to cultural performances associated with textual and performance theory, Weber’s model might be improved upon significantly through increased focus on the implicit improvisation inherent in his model of types of leadership. I suggest that a performance approach employing the metaphor of group improvisation associated with small jazz combos will hone our analyses of shamanisms, whether in contemporary eastern Paraguay or elsewhere in time and space.  In this talk I support my argument with evidence from over 20 months of field research living with Avá-Guaraní shamans in eastern Paraguay.  This is part of a larger ongoing research project and feedback is most welcome.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014
12:30 p.m.
President’s Dining Room